1st Cellphones? One Part of a Larger Life

By Christopher O'donnell | Sarasota Herald Tribune, January 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

1st Cellphones? One Part of a Larger Life


Christopher O'donnell, Sarasota Herald Tribune


HISTORY: Manatee man also flew in battle, took iconic photos - and isn't done yetEAST MANATEESerial Number 001 of the first line of cellphones approved for use in the United States is on display in the Smithsonian Institution. No one knows what happened to Phone 002.But Cellphone 003 has a place of pride in the study of Bradenton resident Mal Gurian, a memento of his leadership of the company that built it.In the early 1980s, Gurian ran Oki Telecom, a division of a Japanese company that was in a race with Motorola to create cellular phones.It was an era before miniaturization and digital communication. Oki's handset alone weighed several pounds and the phone, intended for use in a car, required an 82-pound transmitter- receiver that went in the trunk."We knew we would have a portable phone," Gurian said. "We never knew they would do all the things they do today."Oki won the race in 1983, which led the company to a huge contract to manufacture cellular phones for all seven Bell companies. Gurian was nominated to the Wireless Hall of Fame in 2003 for his contribution to the development of cellular phones.When Gurian eventually left Oki, the company threw a party and presented him with Phone 003, which they had converted into a lamp."It was the most exciting time of my life," said Gurian. "Here I was right in the middle of something, and look what it became today."That small slice of history is only one highlight of a remarkable tale that is Gurian's life story.Gurian took photographs of Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington for a magazine while still in high school, flew bombing missions in Japan during World War II and hung out of small airplanes to take construction photos of the New Jersey Turnpike and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.Those dizzying photos of skyscraper construction workers? Many times, he was the one behind the lens, walking 14-inch-wide girders with nothing but fresh air between him and the ground.Gurian was born in the Bronx in 1926. His dad was a crane operator.But Gurian's passion was photography. While in high school, he freelanced for the New York Daily Mirror and DownBeat magazine, spending his evenings in nightclubs and theaters capturing images of the likes of Benny Goodman and Cab Calloway.After the U.S. entered World War II, Gurian enlisted in the Marines. That was just a few days after his 17th birthday.His unit, the 1st Air Wing, soon put his photography skills to good use. Gurian flew in small fighter planes that dodged anti-aircraft fire while he photographed Japanese villages and bases. …

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